Workshop computer floats above bench and is nearly wireless


[Ezra] used the parts he had lying around to build a self-contained dual screen shop computer. What might one name such a project? Obviously you’d call it the Dr. FrankenComputer.

The lower monitor is a dell desktop flat screen. During prototyping [Ezra] used the stand to support everything. But to keep his work space clear the final version has been mounted to the wall in the corner of his lab. The upper display is the LCD from a Compaq laptop which he wasn’t using. The laptop still works and we believe that’s what is driving the Fedora system. A bracket mounted to the desktop screen’s inner skeleton supports the laptop screen and motherboard. One power supply feeds everything and connects to an outlet in the wall behind the monitors. The keyboard and mouse are wireless, as is the computer’s connection to the network.

The only thing we would worry about in our own shop is sawdust filling the heat sinks and other components of the motherboard. Perhaps his lab is electronic projects only or he has a dust cover that he uses when the system isn’t in use.

SparkFun takes their educational show on the road


They’ve bought an RV and are headed for your state with buckets full of hobby electronic hardware. It’s SparkFun’s National Education tour and if you want them to host a workshop for kids in your area now’s the time to sign up!

It’s no stretch to say that our everyday lives are tightly bound with technology. Chances are every one of the kids in this picture will walk around with an embedded system in their pockets by the time they hit middle school if not earlier (seriously, many of them have the newest generation of high-end smart phones). The sad fact is that nearly 100% will never have any idea how the hardware in those devices functions. And that’s where we think this program really shines.

SparkFun is scheduling 50 stops where $1000 of the cost is subsidized. The team will work with each school/organization to come up with an appropriate workshop for the age of the students and their base knowledge on the topic. Hopefully this will inspire a new generation of hardware hackers who will eventually contribute to using technology to solve world issues. Check out their promo clip after the jump.

We mentioned subsidized visits. The program still costs $1500 and will go up to $2500 after the first 50 stops. But the hardware used in the workshop stays with the kids. And we hope that the $37.50-$125/head price tag will be seen as a worthwhile investment in getting kids interested in more than just entertaining themselves with the social medial offerings running on the hardware.

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Fully loaded electronics lab makes your projects a breeze

There’s really nothing special about this hack. [Craig Hollabaugh] needed an Arduino shield for hosting a Pololu motor driver and making connections to external hardware. What really caused us to spend way too much time reviewing his posts is that [Craig’s] narrative style of documenting the project is delightful, and we’re envious of his electronics lab. That link points to the first of four project pages. The next page is linked at the bottom of each page, or you can find the collection after the break.

[Craig] starts by designing a single-sided shield in Eagle. It’s been years since he made his own PCB, and it takes him about four tries to get the toner transfer right (we’ve also been victim to the wrong mirroring of the resist!). When it comes time to drill for the pin headers [Craig] uses his 3D printer to make a bracket allowing the Dremel to mount to the drill press. There’s a good tip here about buying carbide bits from Harbor Freight; we thought eBay was the only place to get these. Many of us would need to put in a parts order, but this workshop has a well-organized stock of everything he needs. He also has the solder paste and PID outfitted toaster oven to reflow the board. Oh, and when he forgets to add a resistor it’s off the rework station to add one.

See what we mean… one can never have too many tools.

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Papercraft flowers teach kids about batteries


[Emily Daniels] has been teaching interactive electronics workshops geared towards children for some time now, recently holding a session that demonstrated how batteries work in a pretty novel fashion.

She wanted to keep things safe and simple due to the class size, so she didn’t want to rely on using soldering irons for the demonstration. Instead, she showed the children how batteries function by building simple voltaic cells with paper flowers, salt water, and LEDs. The paper flowers’ absorbency was used to act as a salt bridge between the wire pairs that adorned each petal. After salt water was applied to each of the flower’s petals, the center-mounted LED came to life, much to the amazement of her class.

The concept is quite simple, and the LED flowers are pretty easy to build, as you can see in her Instructables tutorial.

We think it’s a great way to demonstrate these sorts of simple concepts to kids, and hope to see more like it.

[via Adafruit blog]

Workshop tour makes us drool; ache with envy

[Mtneer_man] has a workshop to die for. The slide show that he set up covers the different workbenches and shop setups that he’s had over the years. He’s got a core set of beliefs when it comes to his work area. He prefers to have several different work areas for varying degrees of dirty, greasy, stick, or precision projects. These are luxuries that most don’t have the opportunity to enjoy.

With a setup this nice and this clean it’s amazing he does any projects at all. Wait a sec,his workshop IS a hack. The more recent collections of his prolific Flickr sets he details the building and outfitting of yet another workshop in a new structure on his property.  We’re going to keep our eyes on this and see where it ends up.

[via YourlTronics]

Developing physical controllers for the uninitiated

[Dave] hosted a one day seminar at the Illinois Institute of Technology which focused on rapid electronics prototyping for those with little prior experience blinking those LEDs. As the defacto standard for novice prototypers it’s no surprise that he gave an Arduino to each team to use as the controller-computer interface. He started the day by getting the Firmata package up and running. Firmata is a set of libraries that make communications between software and a microcontrollers simple. In this case, each team developed a Flash game that used data from the Arduino as a control.

Several rudimentary games resulted from the day. We’ve embedded video of two of them after the break for your enjoyment. Lion Vs. Pig uses potentiometers, a distance sensor, and an arcade button to play a game of cat-and-mouse (well, Lion-and-Pig really). The other is Kick the Cat, a game that uses a flex sensor and force sensor combination as input. This is something of a virtual mini-basketball game that uses a springy material to launch a virtual feline at a target.

These teams already had a background in code, but the hardware was a new endeavor for them. Arduino helps to break down this cross-over barrier and we think this will result in more people to contribute to open source projects, and falling hardware prices due to a larger volume of demand.

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DIY Dyson vac hack


[James Dyson] may have built eleventy billion prototypes to perfect his famous cyclonic vacuum, but sometimes just one will do the trick.

A cyclonic separator is used in workshops to keep larger cruft out of the dust collection system. The airflow inside a separator creates a vortex that flings heavier bits and particles to the periphery of the chamber, where they settle out the bottom, while relatively clean air escapes the vacuum port at the top. This makes for fewer filter changes and a more consistent pull from the vacuum.

You can go buy a fancy professionally-made separator, but [neorazz] shows how to create one from an assemblage of PVC fittings and a five gallon bucket. The design may lack the power and slick design of the big units, but for garage hack use this may be all you ever need. They demonstrate it to be about 95% effective, and it’s very simple to make. A prior cyclonic separator hack appeared a bit more work-intensive, but the principle is all the same. It all comes down to what skills you possess and what parts you have on hand.